I remember watching holiday celebrations at the White House as a child and feeling disconnected from the festivities: the annual tradition of pardoning the turkey, the grand unveiling of beautiful Christmas decorations by a first lady who looked nothing like the women in my family, and the annual Easter Egg Roll filled with children that rarely resembled me. I was intrigued by the grandeur of it all but could not identify with the imagery.
So when the Obamas entered the White House in 2009, a door opened and invited those of us who’d felt marginalized into a multicultural environment where we could imagine we’d be welcomed. We saw a family that didn’t come from political aristocracy: a family that embraced all cultures, ethnicities, genders, and faiths. First lady Michelle Obama created an atmosphere that was warm and joyful. The Obama girls seemed to take in every ounce of their new home with wonder, and we took it in with them. When they introduced the first dog, Bo, he added even more delight to the mosaic.
In her final Christmas at the White House, Michelle Obama called the decorations “a holiday wonderland that highlights so many core American values: the importance of friends and family, the health and well-being of our young people, the service and sacrifice of our military, and the power of education.” It was yet another reminder of how that administration represented values and ideals bigger than party and ego.
Under the current administration, the White House didn’t feel like the home of the people. It came across as a cold, sterile building, where laughter and levity were missing. Holiday traditions seemed obligatory, and there certainly wasn’t an open-door policy for people of different hues, ideologies, or socioeconomic backgrounds. The White House once again was a place where representation was an inconvenient afterthought. (Of course, it was also a place where officials were busy attacking the rights and well-being of marginalized communities.)
After a contentious election filled with vitriol, lies, and a lack of decency, a new administration will take over on January 20, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. The positive energy of this new era comes as families across the United States are struggling. There are glaring economic hardships. Parents have lost jobs, the food bank lines in several states are miles long, and the pandemic continues to keep loved ones apart during a season when human connection is as important as all the other annual traditions. There will be empty seats and a solemness to an already challenging time of year. This is going to be an extremely difficult season for most people in this country, whether they celebrate or not.
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The Biden and Harris families will make the holidays look more like the United States. At least 1 in 6 children lived in a blended family in 2009, according to U.S. Census data. The traditional nuclear family has evolved, so it’s nice that the White House, once again, will be more reflective of the makeup of the country.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be the first woman to hold the second highest office of the land. She will also be the first Black woman and the first woman of Asian descent. Her husband Doug will be the first man (and the first Jew) to take a back seat as the second gentleman. Their blended family will add a cultural mix to the vice president’s residence that has never been seen before.
Dr. Jill Biden will continue to work as a teacher in addition to her role as first lady. The Bidens are also a blended family that will welcome adult children and grandchildren to the halls of the White House. Both families look and feel like a true representation of a nation that continues to evolve into a melting pot of diverse family structures.
The incoming administration reflects a country with changing demographics. So many different families will see themselves in these multiracial, multigenerational, modern figures. Dr. Biden will show young women of all backgrounds that a first lady can be empowered to work, create, inspire, and have an identity that is not defined by her spouse. Harris is a living example to young girls of color that they can dream bigger and bolder. She’ll be a constant reminder that there is no limit to what any woman can achieve with a commitment to excellence and a determination to never give up, no matter what obstacles are there to deter her.
The Biden-Harris administration will remind us what is not only possible but needed in a country that has for over 400 years treated people of color as “less than.” Representation matters, diversity matters, inclusivity matters, and those ideals will be amplified for the next four years. I can’t think of a better way to kick off the holiday season, in this extremely challenging year, than through embracing diversity—that includes diversity in religion too—and watching these newly elected leaders give a voice to those of us who’ve felt tossed aside for far too long.